I’ve always been drawn to ‘the human’ in people. When I was at primary school I remember looking at one of the so-called ‘tough kids’ and seeing them eat their sandwich or rub an eyelash from their eye, and suddenly I felt a deep recognition of their humanity. In an instant their tough exteriors were undercut by something universally human. Their surface was done away with and I felt a common connection with them, a deep empathy. I have never known quite what to do with this feeling, but at some level, I feel a need to express it; and perhaps, I my more hopeful moments, believe that hearing it could help make the world a little bit of a better place.
At the time of writing and shooting ‘Frail’ my Dad was very ill with secondary cancer. I don’t remember this having any specific influence on the writing. Death had always been of interest to me, our relation to it, how we deal with it as a reality in our lives. The genesis for the story of ‘Frail’ came from my mum’s recollection of the first time that she saw a dead body. It moved her deeply at the time and still holds and impact now. The idea of a cold austere morgue seemed very atmospheric to me, so I tried to express that feeling the best I could.
‘Frail’ was written before I had read any of Ernest Becker’s work or even knew who he was. I came across him in an interview with Woody Allen. He had featured The Denial of Death in his film ‘Annie Hall.’ I tracked down Becker’s book in the library and was immediately drawn to his writing. It was clear and passionate, but most of all someone was finally speaking out about our common frailty. This seemed a much needed discussion. Most academic writing has always seemed off the main point, sidetracked by various issues, valid in themselves but ignoring the most common, important and present one before our eyes.
Now, as I reflect on the film, I can see how interested I was in the idea that the honest realization of one’s human condition can lead to a greater connection with others; perhaps, a greater relaxedness in oneself. To avoid an honest confrontation seems to break us off from others; cage us in. However, it seems to take a tremendous courage of spirit to let go and face the fears and uncertainties of human experience, yet still to remain open. I don’t know to what level this is wholly possible, or if it can be sustained for any great length of time.
The human surrounds us at every moment. I sometimes wonder if constantly seeing it would crush us and make it impossible to act; the weight becoming too much. But I think that being reminded of it, revealing it every now and then can be very helpful. I don’t know if ‘Frail’ achieves this exactly. But hopefully if you like it enough it provides a space to feel and think about these issues and, ideally, allow the creation of your own response.
[Frail can be purchased on DVD at www.ernestbecker.org under the “Store” menu item –ed.]